Efforts continue in the Kentucky General Assembly’s seemingly never-ending war against drugs with heroin being the latest target. Less than two weeks after the start of the 60-day General Assembly — a time when traditionally little is being done — the Kentucky Senate has unanimously approved a bill intended to help those addicted to heroin while assuring that those convicted of trafficking in heroin receive long prison sentences.
The bill sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Katie Stine, a northern Kentucky Republican, now advances to the House of Representatives where it already has received strong, bipartisan support. In fact, State Rep. John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, is the bill’s leading supporter in the House Judiciary Committee, which Tilley chairs.
Laws enacted by recent sessions of the General Assembly have been effective in curbing the prescription drug epidemic in eastern Kentucky and in thwarting the spread of methamphetamines. While no one pretends the abuse of prescription pain pills and the manufacture and use of meth are no longer problems in this region, there is evidence that abuse of both meth and prescription pain pills is waning in this region, thanks in part to the new state laws. But as problems with meth and prescription pain bills and meth have declined, use of heroin has increased at an alarming rate.
The problem is most severe in Kentucky’s northernmost counties across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. “Overdoses have become a daily occurrence in northern Kentucky,” said Stine of Southgate. “Heroin has overwhelmed our court system, jails, police departments and social service networks.”
The 36-0 Senate vote on the bill came on the same day a Senate committee reviewing the measure was urged to take action by a judge, a nurse, a police chief and the father of a man who died of a heroin overdose.
The bill calls for tougher punishment for higher-volume heroin traffickers. They currently are eligible for parole after serving one-fifth of their sentences. The bill would require them to serve at least half their sentences.
Campbell County District Judge Karen Thomas said heroin addiction is “a true crisis” in her part of northern Kentucky, and she urged tough action against dealers.
On the treatment side, the bill would require the Kentucky Medicaid program to pay for a range of substance-abuse treatment. It also would direct that part of the money saved from the state’s 2011 corrections reform law be used to fund treatment and anti-drug education programs.
The bill also seeks to increase the availability of a drug that can help reverse the effects of heroin overdoses. It would allow doctors to prescribe the drug naloxone to the families of addicts and first responders such as police officers in an effort to reduce overdose deaths.
Laws that make the distinction between addicts and drug dealers have helped reduce addictions of pain pills and have helped curb crime by eliminating the need for addicts to steal to feed their habits. That clearly is the most effective approach to reducing the use of deadly drugs.
Republicans and Democrats in the Kentucky General Assembly have often found themselves hopelessly divided on key issues and, at times, being unable to even approve a budget. But when it comes to the war against drugs, legislators have been united. They all recognize the intense partisanship that has slowed progress on other issues cannot slow progress in the war against drugs. Too many Kentuckians have died from drug overdoses or have seen their lives ruined by drug use.